Continuing the slow trek through this ebook:) This chapter looks in depth at the Israelites and their struggles, despite God's help, of remembering...
Do you remember what it was like to be in the great depression in the 1930’s? Do you remember the desperation and poverty that gripped America? Do you remember how Vietnam divided America? Do you remember the World Wars, where those who stayed back were asked to sacrifice for the war? I don’t; I wasn’t alive then. It would be my guess that the people reading this book are a couple of generations removed from those difficult times in the life of America. Every generation born since those time periods are less and less affected by the events. I know my generation does not appreciate the sacrifice of the people for the sake of freedom. Imagine if the president required that, each year, the citizens of America eat only beans and rice to remember what is was like when our country was suffering depression. Or, if for one weekend each year, we had to sell and give at least 30% of what we own to the government to remember the sacrifice of the first two world wars. What if the congress enacted that one month out of the year, people would have to wait for hours in the gas stations to understand the desperation of trying to get fuel. Though America has instituted a few holidays here and there to remember the price of those who have gone before us, for most of the generations to follow, it has become just another day to shop or go to the beach. America has not helped us remember very well. Imagine if our government was God’s government and our culture was our religion, would America require that we remember better? If so, you get a better idea what God was going after when he instituted his plan to remember.
Let’s get back to our walk through remembering. God remembers first. Then, He commands us to remember Him, forever. He gave us the word “remember” in and as His name so we could not and would not forget. God remembered His covenant to His people and through the miracle of the ten plagues, the passing over, and the parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites were delivered from the bondage of slavery. God remembered and now He commands the same. In fact, after delivering the Israelites from Egypt, through the mouth of Moses, in Exodus 13:3 – the Israelites are commanded to “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place.”
The command is clear: remember. Do not forget. Put it in your heart and mind. Remember this day.
But, then God goes a step further. He gives them an experiential way to remember. Actually, He gives them two ways to remember.
“No leavened bread shall be eaten.”
Moses explains on why the leavened bread. In Exodus 13:6-10, he writes, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year.”
The command to remember comes with a tangible, experiential sign of bread to remind the Israelites and their children that the Law of the Lord is to be in their mouth and the memory of deliverance is to be in their heart. Why leaven? The verse in Deuteronomy 16:3 helps clarify: “Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.”
The Israelites did not have time for the leaven to rise; they left Egypt in a hurry. The tasteless, flat bread, eaten for a week, would be and is a continual reminder of God’s deliverance from slavery.
That was the first way to remember, annually, for seven days. The other act that the Israelites needed to do was to set apart all that first opened the womb. It was commanded for a reason, so that the son would ask why and they would learn once again to remember their deliverance from the land of Egypt.
Here is the full verse:
Exodus 13:14-16 - And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.”
God instituted two reminders of his deliverance through eating unleavened bread and giving to God the firstborn. He instituted annual reminders so that generation after generation would remember that God acted on behalf of his people.
Why would God command His people to remember their deliverance from Egypt?
When, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gave the law to the new generation of Israelites, the sons and daughters of those who died wandering in the desert, he repeated to them time and again that they are to remember that they were slaves in Egypt. By remembering their slavery, not only do they appreciate God and his power, but remembering changes, motivates and guides them in their life. If God loved us enough to remember us, has the power to deliver us, and has the faithfulness to guide and care for us then, than He will love us, deliver and care for us through all of life.
And in case they forget, every year they would have an opportunity to remember for a whole week how God delivered them, year after year, generation after generation. They could not forget despite how many years went by. Whenever a father and a mother celebrated a birth of their first child, they would remember God’s deliverance from slavery. The Israelites were free, not because of anything they did, but because God wanted them to be free and bought them their freedom.
It was imperative for the Israelites to remember this freedom from slavery because it would have ramifications for all of their lives. I want to give you a few verses from Moses reminding in the book of Deuteronomy. Look how Moses gives reasons for remembering.
Deuteronomy 7:18 – “But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.”
By remembering what God did to Egypt and Pharaoh, it will help the Israelites not be afraid in whatever they will face. God brought a million people out of slavery, through a parted river and decimated the greatest power in the world; compared to that, the rest of life is easy. There is nothing to fear, except God.
Deuteronomy 15:15 – “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.”
What was the command?
Deuteronomy 15:12-14 – 12“If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him.”
The command was given to help them remember. By caring for a slave, they will be remembering how God cared for the Israelites when they were slaves. Their obedience would be a foreshadowing of grace-filled obedience.
Deuteronomy 24:17-18 – 17“You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, 18but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.”
In Egypt, their entire lives were about justice perversion. They were slaves. They had no rights. Do not pervert justice because you have endured justice perversion and I saved you from justice perversion. The reminder of slavery is a reason why they are being commanded to not deprive the alien, fatherless or widow. They were once aliens without any rights. Do unto them as you remember what you wished you would have had and now are enjoying.
Deuteronomy 24:19-22 – 19“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.”
Again, another command to remember the poor. When they harvest the grapes, they were instructed to leave some for the poor to glean. Why? Because they were once poor in Egypt.
In Exodus 20, God says, “Remember the Sabbath day.” It all ties together a few books later when Moses commands the people in Deuteronomy 5:15 – “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
They are to remember the Sabbath day because in Egypt, they never had a day to worship God. Remember to take a Sabbath so you will remember that you never had a Sabbath day. You never had the freedom to worship.
Why does it seem that all these commands tie into their success at remembering this bondage breaking time in the life of their people? I am not sure it was as much about the command as it was about the heart behind the command. I think it was God’s attempt to give them (and us) an insight into grace. The whole law is summed up in one command: Love your God and Love your neighbor as yourself. If we just give grapes away, we miss the point. The point is, remember who you were, remember your God who saved you and it will change how you treat other people.
Would we change if America decided to help us remember the difficult yesteryears with mandated fasting and purging? I seriously doubt it. Government can change behavior, but it cannot change the heart. And that is, what I believe, God was after all along. But, laws don’t change hearts. Grace does. Love does. When we remember.